month, as we celebrate the 167th anniversary of Texas' independence, it's probably
a good time to tweak the collection conscience of East
The last surviving veteran of the Battle
of San Jacinto on April 21, 1836, lies in an almost forgotten cemetery in
deep East Texas, his tombstone chipped
and broken. Few people are aware of the grave.
It's an ignoble resting
place for a proud old soldier, John G. Pickering, who died in 1917 at the
age of 99 following a career that also included service in the Mexican War, a
legacy as a country physician, and a reputation for caring for the poor and unfortunate.
For his service to Texas, he received a pittance of $12.50 a month.
native Mississippian, Pickering came to Texas as a boy printer. He recalled that
Andrew Jackson once placed his hand upon his head and told him, "You're a fine
Landing in Texas in 1836, he joined Texas' revolutionary forces
at Liberty, enlisting in W.A.
Patton's company in Colonel Sidney Sherman's Regiment. "That was in April, and
our men met Sam Houston at Grace's Crossing on the Brazos River after a four-day
march and joined the retreat to the San Jacinto River. We tore down a house owned
by Mr. (Lorenzo de) Zavala and made a raft to cross the river," Pickering told
a newspaper reporter in 1916.
Pickering fought ferociously at San
Jacinto as Houston's men whipped Mexican General Santa Anna's troops in 18
minutes. He stood with Deaf
Foot Wallace and other Texas heroes when Santa Anna was brought before Houston
as he lay wounded on a blanket under an oak tree.
That night, Pickering
decided to kill Santa Anna to avenge the fallen Texans at the Alamo
But Houston learned of his plan and put the young soldier under guard. "Now that
time has passed, I see that Sam Houston saved me from a thing I would have always
regretted," said Pickering.
With Texas' independence assured, Pickering
became an apprentice to Dr.
Anson Jones, who had treated Houston's wounds at San Jacinto. Jones
taught him the fundamentals of frontier medicine -- a profession he would practice
for more than sixty years. He was known for his kindness and his frequent refusal
to take money from the poor.
During his nineties, Pickering was often
called upon by lawyers as a witness in land cases with roots in the l830s and
l840s. Few questioned his judgment or memory.
But in one case, when a
Hardin County judge questioned Pickering's presence at San
Jacinto, an attorney produced a volume of Brown's History of Texas, which
carried the name "J. Pickering" as a combatant.
Pickering outlived two
wives, Martha Remwater and Elizabeth Williams. As a physician he lived in several
communities in Jasper, Hardin and Tyler counties. In his nineties, he moved to
Angelina County to live with his son-in-law, Johnnie Williams, on a small farm
near Zavalla -- a town that ironically bears the name of the man whose house helped
him cross the San Jacinto River in 1836.
Pickering lived a modest life
at Zavalla, rarely complaining, except to remark that he would like a new suit
for his 100th birthday.
In February of 1917, he left home in his buggy,
pulled by his faithful old mare Dolly, to visit his friend, Hannibal Mott. Caught
in a rain shower, he became sick and died at Mott's house on February 4--eleven
months short of his 100th birthday.
The last hero of the Battle
of San Jacinto was buried in an old suit.
April 13-19, 2003 column
syndicated column in over 40 East Texas newspapers
This column is provided
as a public service by the East Texas Historical Association. Bob Bowman is a
former president of the Association and author of nearly 30 books on East Texas.